Top 10 tips for preparing your students for exam season


It’s getting to that time of year again when many of our learners are getting ready to take their English exams. This is when they find themselves under a great deal of pressure to succeed and many of them may also have other exams to prepare for either at school or at university. So how can we as teachers help our learners be as prepared as possible when exam day comes around? Here are our top ten tips for preparing learners for exams.

  1. Give them plenty of speaking practice

One of the areas in which a candidate can often freeze is the speaking part of the exam. In the heat of the moment they might panic and feel like everything they know has suddenly disappeared from their minds. We can help them with this by giving them as much practice as possible. Doing well in speaking exams often comes down to confidence, so the more opportunities learners have to familiarise themselves with this part of the exam, the more confident they will feel on exam day. This will also give you the opportunity as a teacher to iron out any frequently occurring mistakes and practise key expressions that will impress the examiner.

  1. Get it write

This may seem obvious, but make sure that your learners are familiar with all the writing tasks that may come up in the exam. Often learners have one or two tasks that they like writing and are then stumped when these do not appear in the exam. A quick refresher on their less-preferred writing tasks could save them in the exam. It is also important to remind the learners to cover all the points listed in the question. It is amazing how many marks are lost by not answering the question completely. A quick activity with a nifty highlighter could help your learners gain valuable points in the written tasks.

  1. Get the timings right

One thing that often surprises learners is the amount of time (or lack of it) that they have on exam day. Therefore, it is crucial that we, as teachers, help prepare them for this. Now is the time to start giving them timed practice of the various parts of the exam in order to get them used to how long each section should take. It’s also worth getting them to look at the clock and think about where in the exam they should be at any given point.

  1. Recreate exam conditions

Another thing that can throw even the most well-prepared learner is the unfamiliar exam conditions. Nothing can completely replicate the conditions of an exam, but you can certainly try and make your classroom as close to an exam centre as possible. Ask your learners to hand in mobile phones and only use the prescribed stationary. Insist on silence as well to try and replicate exam conditions as closely as possible, so that your learners are not too surprised on the day.

  1. Go-to language

In the last few weeks before the exam it’s impossible to teach your learners all the language they need to pass the exam (you’ve already done that!). What you can do, however, is practise a few killer lines that they could throw into the speaking or writing parts of the exam. Perhaps an idiom or two, some nice collocations or a few fancy linking devices. These could make all the difference for a borderline candidate.

  1. Practise at home

There is the well-known saying ‘practice makes perfect’. While that may not be entirely true, it is important for our learners to be preparing for the exam in their free time. The 3 hours of so that they spend with us every week is not enough. So, make sure you give your exam students plenty of practice to do at home. Be it the reading paper that they find challenging, an essay to write or even a whole practise test. Even if they don’t do all of it (as is often the case with my classes) any practice they do will be hugely beneficial in the run up to the real thing.

  1. Prepare for exam day itself

Make sure your learners know what the exam day itself will entail. What time do they need to be there? What order are the papers done in? Do they need to bring their ID? What stationary do they need to bring? What are the rules? The more familiar your learners are with what will happen on the day, the fewer surprises there will be, and the chance of your learners being distracted or put off by these things is reduced.

  1. Give your students actionable feedback

At this time of year, your learners are probably giving you lots of work to check as they prepare for their exams. It’s therefore essential that your feedback is meaningful and actionable. Avoid simply saying ‘well done’ or ‘good job’ and instead focus on what exactly they have done well and give them meaningful tips on how they could do it better next time. This will help your learners much more than just a pat on the back.

  1. Review strategies

Now is also the time to quickly review the strategies that your learners can use in the various parts of the exam. This will have been covered earlier in the year, but a little review is always useful. A quick recap of skimming and scanning techniques or how discourse markers might help in a listening task might be worth its weight in gold come the day of the exam.

  1. Vocabulary review

All good coursebooks these days have vocabulary sections at the end of the book. Or maybe you have created your own vocabulary list or vocabulary pot over the course of the year. Now is the time to do quick vocabulary tests, or activities to revise this language. I always try and make these as fun as possible as I think this aids memory. By revising the vocabulary shortly before the exam, it might turn passive knowledge into active knowledge or prevent your learners from getting bogged down by a tricky word in a reading text.

Good luck to all the learners who are taking exams over the next few weeks and months! And to their teachers, we hope this gives you a few ideas on how to make sure they are as prepared as possible for the exams they are about to face. Not long to go now. Fingers crossed everyone!

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